On Being a Light in a Dark World
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 9, 2020
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do you light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket!”
from Matthew 5:13-16
When I went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land for the first time during my first year of ordination, I will never forget our visit to the traditional site where Jesus is believed to have preached the Sermon on the Mount. On this beautiful hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, you can see Jesus using examples from everyday life as he is teaching, local images that were all around his listeners. Many of his examples may still be seen there today. From that hill Jesus’ hearers could easily see the city of Tiberius at some distance across the lake. It could not be hidden but climbs the cliff by the sea quite dramatically.
We seldom have opportunities to do great things for God, but we can always strive to do little things well. Jesus calls his friends the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Most of us are ordinary people with ordinary lives: we go to school or work; we come home, we interact with friends and deal with other people at church, we are shopping or on the road. Yet, as Christians, Jesus calls us to be different, a light, a seasoning for those around us. How do we do this? By paying attention to the details; by noticing the needs of others; by small random acts of kindness in an often unkind and unforgiving world. Why do we do this? To love Jesus by our actions. By seeing Jesus in the person or moment at hand.
Perhaps a good question to ask when hearing this gospel is: do I really live my life any differently than the unbelievers who may be around me? People should notice a difference in the way I speak, for example. If others around me are swearing, I will refrain. If they are speaking ill about someone, I can keep quiet. If others are goofing off at work, I can continue to be conscientious. If others are cheating at school, I can be honest. If others complain all the time, I can try to give thanks to God. It is through simple means as these that we can be salt and light in our own little world.
There was once a priest in the diocese, now deceased, that I was speaking with once, along with a number of others. As so often happens, the conversation happened to turn in a negative direction toward a certain individual, and what happened next was a real learning experience for me. This priest did not correct the group—or even walk away. He simply stopped talking. If questioned about this person who was being run down, he simply changed the subject. No one was going to get him into negative talk! This was a true witness, a way of being salt and light without saying anything at all! We sure changed the subject quickly! Small things done lovingly for God add up quickly.